Go with the (Traffic) Flow


Ditch rigid walks, drives and patios for spaces that Know where to go

By Cassy Aoyagi: Angelenos know how to go with the flow. People may obey strident cement walks and rigid walks elsewhere. Here, if the defined route isn’t the most sensible (or fun) path, well, people will find their own way – we’ll even avoid the beaten path in our own gardens! Just as we work to go with the flow of H2O, developing an effective landscape look for LA means we absorb the traffic we can, direct what we can’t, and have the wisdom to accept the difference.



As with our waterways, our landscaped areas have long used rigid, unnatural materials to compel foot traffic in directions that are not always productive.  LA communities hoping to absorb residents and shoppers into community spaces will:

  • Spark curiosity.  Parks with large expanses of unshaded grass can discourage foot traffic almost as effectively as a parking lot. To bring people into a space, create intimate spaces with visual interest at different heights – the new look of LA sparks curiosity!
  • Eschew the hard line. Look for paths that make movement an adventure, an exploration. This strategy may bring dollars as well people to your space. Walking and jogging paths increase pedestrian interest and community property values.
  • Throw shade. Everyone wants a chance to walk in the sun, but only for so long. If you want people to walk your walk, throw them some shade. Paths with tree cover see more traffic!




If people are coming our way, we have a chance to influence their paths. Of course there will be areas we want to protect, but we have prettier options than erecting walls. Effective, aesthetically appealing boundaries can make sticking to the straight and narrow feel natural. For example, we can:

  • Harness or create inconvenience.  A dense set of trees, a steep bioswale, a stream or dry river, or even a slight step up can push traffic flow elsewhere without pushing eyes away.
  • Change tone. Changes in materials provide subtle cues to guide behavior. A flagstone walk becomes less formal, more intimate, as it becomes a decomposed granite path. Changing materials can also effectively differentiate gathering spaces from transit routes.
  • Show a soft side. Delicate, lovely foliage like Coast Dudleya or Beach strawberry can also be an effective boundary. You’d be surprised how far people will go to protect beauty!

2012 Pacific Palisades Garden Tour


While we can plan for the traffic we want and work to shape behavior, there are a few areas where we are better off if we accept what is and adapt to human nature. Effective garden designers will:

  • Know where we want to go.  There are natural draws and flows in any outdoor space. Understanding (or creating!) these spots gives us a leg-up in directing traffic patterns.
  • Help people stick together. A charming single track path may be fine in your backyard. In a commercial space or the approach to your front door, it may become a bottleneck or worse, discourage movement, create safety issues, or encourage spillover into spaces you’d rather protect. Consider where people expect to walk 2-3 abreast and be sure your walks accommodate the traffic.


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